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  Beneath an everglow lantern in his tent, the Probability Knight dialed questions vigorously into his watch, getting the same confounding answer each time.

“This is bad. Bad bad.”

“What is it now?” the Secretary asked from her patient vigil in the shadows. She was concerned by how the Knight seemed to have been deserted by all useful adjectives.

“Something happened down there. I can't tell exactly what, but it's like... Some Error variable is affecting the equation. Something’s screwing up the answers! I can't even get more information. It’s Error this and Error that!

“Last woman we sent died instantly from… motion!” the Knight related, his voice quavering with incredulity.

The Secretary didn’t know why the Knight’s calculator was failing, or why this set of events in particular had broken down his renowned fortitude, but she agreed with his sentiment: they were encountering an unknown unknown, and that itself was scary.

. . .

Agate came to, rubbing her head. There was a sizable knot on her forehead. Her mind felt different somehow. At first she wondered if her brain had been jostled too hard and she was going to walk around in circles until somebody pitched her into the Deep Gate. And then she realized what was missing. The desire to protect Ognevika was gone from her thoughts, wiped away along with the “Property of” engraving from her collar.

Lyca saw that Agate was awake and trotted over to offer her a hand. “Sorry about threatening to shoot you,” she said in that sweet, ingratiating voice. Agate’s eyes started to narrow. Even without the instinct to defend Ognevika, she did not like Lyca. Lyca was loyal to the Master Builder and the world above. Everyone acted like she was so smart because she could read and build stupid goggles.

“I only want to help Error fulfill her purpose – to free us from the Adventurers,” Lyca continued, brow furrowed with earnesty. “Friends?”

Lyca knew how badly Agate yearned to have friends. Surely she would be in Lyca’s pocket now. Agate considered biting the extended hand, feeling that the earnesty was fake, but then she had a better idea. She nodded wearily and grabbed Lyca’s hand, rising. She saw her black tiara twinkling in the reflection of Lyca’s eyes.

“Friends,” she said, beaming at Lyca. Lying was so easy!

Agate looked happy enough that Lyca was sure she had succeeded. Now, with a little finesse and a little patience, she might win over Agate, take the book back from her and fulfill her mission.

Error missed the exchange between her two underlings. She was staring at the greasy, smoldering smear where the latest adventurer had perished.

“I’m the Emergency State General-Secretary,” she said, her voice buzzing out through the dive suit speakers, “and I say it’s time we put an end to the human nonsense going on up there.”

Error turned from the burning cess-moat towards Ognevika.

“Oi, dragon-me. Flap your wings towards the entrance tunnel.”

Ognevika begrudgingly started to beat her wings at the burning moat, directing the smoke into the tunnel towards the camp.

A hot wind tickled the Probability Knight’s nose, and for a moment he wasn’t concerned. And then he remembered he was on level 555 of the catacombs beneath Avalon. An ominous damp draft might be expected, but a summer’s warm breeze…?

He lurched to his feet as wisps of opaque black smoke began to drift into his tent. Clonk! He hit his head on the heavy lantern, sending chaotic streaks of light and shadow careening across the canvas and the Secretary’s shocked face. Her eyes flashed with the same urgency he felt.

They both dashed out of the tent to see dark, billowing clouds coursing in pulses out of the tunnel entrance and through the campground. The smoke drifted thickly around the camp’s occupants, and within seconds visibility was reduced to just the eerie balls of fragile light representing torches placed around the perimeter.

“Poison gas attack!” the Knight roared. “GET DOWN! TAKE COVER!”

He ran back towards his own tent to fetch a gas mask from his supply chest. The camp torches began to sputter and die, starved for air. The Knight could only see an arm’s length into the haze. In the oppressive darkness, he heard the Adventurers crashing around in confusion as they tried to escape the fumes. Yelps of surprise emanated from all directions as his troops, taken unawares, collided in the smoke.

“Cover your eyes and mouths!” he shouted, over thumps and clatters of fallen crates and stubbed toes. There was no time to evacuate. They would be trapped in the bottleneck of the tunnel leading back up to higher levels. They had to stand and fight. “Ready the barricades! They’re coming!”

Whoever they were; the source of this terrible Error, he surmised.

The Rogue and the Fighter, until this moment engrossed in a game of cards, became aware of the smoke situation only when another Adventurer charged blindly into their tent, tripped over a chair leg and upended their table in a cascade of ale, cards and spluttering.

Stumbling to his feet, the Rogue yelled an obscenity at his peer then squinted through the flapping doorway. “You know what, I think the game’s over,” he said.

The Fighter blinked, still holding his suspiciously unlucky hand of cards. “What d’you mean?” he said. “You’re winning!”

The intruder stared at them both in bafflement for a second then scrambled haphazardly past some ruffled bedding, lifted the external canvas with an almighty heave, and continued towards the rear of the camp.

“Nope,” the Rogue answered, looking out at something the Fighter couldn’t see. “I think we’re losing.”

A stately fog had followed the other Adventurer into the tent. The Rogue crinkled his nose and began grabbing the few items that were sitting around the sparse accommodation where he and the Fighter had spent most of the dreary, long hours of the siege and throwing them into a Bag of Holding.

The pair of them emerged from the tent as the smoke began to pour over the camp in earnest and a din of panicked noise began to build. They heard the Knight shouting orders from far away.

“I’ll need my sword,” the Fighter said, grimly.

The Guild Secretary had scurried back to the Knight’s tent, afraid of being trampled, covering her face with a damp handkerchief embroidered with the Guild’s sigil. It was not doing any good. Her chest was tight and her throat burned. She cowered surrounded by her quills, memo pads and ledgers; their pages fluttered as if they, too, were afraid.

She pulled the handkerchief away from one eye as the Knight clomped back into the tent. Before she could ask what happened, he had ripped his helmet off and cast it aside, and was digging through his supply chest frantically.

The Secretary’s eye stung, but she couldn’t look away: she’d never seen the Knight’s face before. He was younger than she had assumed, with a broad, plain face. His jaw was too soft to look heroic. His eyes were wide and bloodshot.

The Knight pulled on a heavy mask with intricately crafted canisters on either side. His breathing rasped through it, sounding even more strained and frantic.

“What is it?” the Secretary gasped. “Dragonfire doesn’t produce smoke, oh Builder, the stench…”

Out of instinct, the Knight tried to consult his calculator. The smoke was too thick and the lenses of his gas mask had begun to fog over already with condensation. He just shook his head and left.

Down below, Error strode across the treasure pile towards the moat. It burned with a furious light and, with every beat of Ognevika’s huge wings, bathed her army and the hoard cave in alternating hues of bright white and vibrant yellow. Her steps were heavy and menacing in the dive suit. The Inian gun dangled in her hand, gleaming eagerly as she made her way towards the line of fire, beyond which she could hear choked screams echoing down the tunnel. She ran her tongue over her kobold teeth – smaller than a dragon’s but far, far sharper.

“The human leader was well equipped,” Lyca commented. She had fallen in beside Error. “He might find a way to get around in the smoke. I didn't see any breathing apparatus on the adventurers, though,” she admitted.

“Why would they have breathing gear?” Error grinned inside her helmet. “They came prepared to fight a dragon, and dragonfire produces no smoke. This horrid moss filled with the sweat of a hundred generations of Kobolds, and the cess-moat, is on another level entirely. What a perfect ambience for a massacre!”

“Keep fanning the smoke while we hunt,” Lyca called over her shoulder to Ognevika.

The dragon merely lowered her head, murder in her eyes, and continued to beat her wings.

“New quest: Avenge fallen Inia,” the Necronomicon crooned to Agate, who was still watching Error’s small procession from a distance. “Go to the Enemy camp. Slaughter them all.”

Agate complied with the Book’s wish, and scampered off to join them immediately. As she got closer she called out to Error.

“I’m sorry,” she shouted.

Error and Lyca turned to look at her. Error’s expression staid and hard through her helmet, and Lyca’s one of kind-eyed surprise.

She stopped and considered both faces for a second before continuing, “I’m sorry I disobeyed you, Error.” She stared down at her webbed toes. “The collar was controlling my actions. Before, I mean. I would like to join the hunting party… if I may…” she fidgeted.

She looked back to Error expectantly.

Error nodded, solemnly and summoned a minion kobold carrying protective gear. She took a spherical helmet similar to her own and gave it to Agate.

“I’ve only got one more of these, but you’re quite handy with that gravity spoon,” she replied. “Float us across. Clear our path. Do not fail me again.”

Agate stood up straighter and beamed, and then eagerly stuffed her head into the helmet.

“I will aid you. Make sure I can see,” the Necronomicon demanded. Agate belted the book to her chest.

Lyca fastened her goggles tightly and tore strips of her mangled dress to protect her mouth and nose. She dipped her arbalest’s arrow in the burning moat, setting it alight with a tiny, dull flame.

Error turned back and saw the kobolds – her kobolds – watching her with adoring eyes. Her dragon-self had finally been brought to heel. She had two lieutenants at her beck and call. Yes. She was a dragon again, a dragon of a different sort. And it was time to purge her hoard of all invaders.

Agate raised the gravity wand and lifted the three of them together over the wall of fire. They advanced on the force the Empire had mustered to exterminate them.

“Archers, to your stations! Infantry, in formation!” The Knight yelled, hoarsely. He was losing his voice; could anyone hear him through this blasted mask and the commotion? He was standing on top of the barricades, attempting to look down into the tunnel entrance. He couldn't see anything through the smoke.

Agate pointed her spoon and focused her thoughts on the barriers ahead. The Ferrum-forged barricades groaned as they lifted from the earth. Caltrops floated lazily through the air like motes of dust.

The Knight leapt down from the barricades as they began to shift unnaturally under his feet. Half the archers fired blindly off into the smoke, and the other half were sent tumbling and scrambling for cover. The remaining infantry began to break ranks.

Error strutted ahead as Agate cleared a path for the three kobolds straight into the heart of the camp. Her prior floating journey around the camp had served its purpose; she had memorised the human defences quite well.

Lyca aimed her arbalest at the fuel-barrels stockpiled in the middle of the camp, and let loose her glowing arrow. The resulting detonation was spectacular. Humans and debris went flying through the air. Lyca fell back to reload her crossbow.

Error and Agate proceeded into the camp without her. The two crystalline kobolds worked as a team, the gravity spoon freezing any survivors in place and the railgun exploding them one by one. Error fired so many times that Agate’s gravity spoon’s magic began to fade again. She decided to heed the advice of the Book and put the spoon away in her armour, switching to a new strategy: Necromancer. She moved away from Error’s magic-devouring range.

The Book’s eye opened as Agate raised her hand towards her enemies. As she moved her pointed finger across each of them in turn, their hands unlocked and their weapons dropped to the ground. Having disarmed them, she was unsure what to do next.

“You must end them now, before they can act,” the Book hissed at her.

“You mean… kill them?” Agate replied in shock. She had been an accomplice to so much death already in this battle; she wasn’t sure she could do it herself.

“Disable them, at least!” The Book snapped, “and quickly!”

Agate didn’t pause. She noticed each human soldier was wearing a belt. She pointed at each and it loosened. Some of the humans who had already stooped to pick up their weapons found they could no longer stand properly. Others fell over straight away. It was a comical pile of oddly-shaped bodies and flapping pants.

Error passed through the smoke like a shadow of death, executing helpless, confused adventurers one by one. Her horns and eyes flared from within with an ominous radiance. Mag-lights, swords and wizards’ implements dimmed as the eldritch, Inian weapon devoured their magic. Spells winked out before they got a chance to be released. Protective pentagrams failed.

The railgun cut through armor and flesh with equal ease. Any who found themselves in her vicinity for an instant fell as coin projectiles sliced straight through legs and ribs with deafening thunderclaps. Heads of the fallen exploded like ripe melons, blood splattering Error’s diving suit.

Fires from the burning camp cast grotesque, stretched shadows of Error and Agate onto the smoke. Error cackled madly, and her voice, distorted by the diving suit’s speaker, echoed across the cavern. Agate joined in the laughter, amused at the pants-related chaos she was wreaking.

The Probability Knight gripped the Secretary tightly by the forearm as they escaped from the camp down a narrow crevasse. The battle noise was distant but loud and when the Secretary’s leg snapped with a shocking crack he had no idea whether it was from the hard, slippery rocks they were negotiating or if she had been struck with a stray railgun projectile. With a cry, she lunged forward and the Knight was encumbered with her entire weight.

Glancing over his shoulder he saw the ghostly outlines of floating shields, the explosions of fuel barrels, and heard the thunderclaps and shrieks from the railgun’s victims. He gaped in terror at the long shadows cast by Error and Agate and shivered at their mad, echoing laughter. High level as he was, he might have been able to defeat the three little Kobolds, but he was too afraid of something he could not predict, could not plan, name or account for. He was running from something truly horrifying. An Error in the answer of the watch. An Error in his future. For the first time he ran from a fight – fled in panic from the unknown.

The Guild Secretary sobbed on his back. Screams of the dying chased them into the darkness.

. . .

Error, having run out of people to murder, came to a halt in the center of the camp. Her body pulsed with power and radiated with arcane energy. She looked over the burning remains around her and saw that there were no more enemies to vanquish.

The three kobold adventurers descended back towards the hoard. Agate and Lyca lagged behind, not able to keep up with Error in her state of luminescent power, who simply leapt over the moat and landed in front of the kobold army.

Kobolds bowed to Error as she entered the hoard cavern, trail of blood dripping behind her from the diving suit.

“The Red General Secretary,” they whispered to each other. “Liberator of Kobolds. Owner of a Dragon.”

Error stood in front of the gathered kobold crowd and addressed them.

“Once the cess-moat stops burning, make a bridge over it. Drain the blood of the adventurers and soak cloth in it. This will be our banners.

“The Officers are to wear blood-soaked armbands and are to keep on disassembling the hoard, coordinating the rest of the uneducated troops.

“Make a cavern for healing artifacts. Dedicate meeker Kobolds to hospital duties. I won't lose another Kobold to a broken leg or a cut or to general ignorance. Get everyone into tip top shape with the hospital cavern.

“Biggest kobolds are to move the heaviest things from upstairs: beds, tables, shields, etc. Stuff the smoked dead bodies down into the crystal crevices, they will dry up nicely in there and should last us for years.

Take everything of value from the Human camp down to the hoard! I want to sleep on the bed of my enemies. The fanciest one, belonging to the head knight.

“K, I'm gonna rest now.”

As Error finished her speech, the glow of her horns faded. She collapsed into the pile of gold next to her dragon self and curled into a ball of blooded diving suit. Dragon wings closed over her.

. . .

Lyca faced Agate in the tunnel, the intelligence within the Library tag demanding an immediate acquisition of the book. It had waited long enough. This was the time to strike, after the fight Agate should be weak and out of mana.

Lyca started off with a compliment to butter up her nemesis.

“I was watching you fight. Great job.”

“Thanks. I’m a Necromancer now,” Agate confessed, proudly.

“You’re a WHAT?!” Lyca shouted, dropping all composure. The book's influence had gone further than she expected. It had made Agate its disciple and Agate foolishly had bound herself to the book.

“I can make humans drop their pants!” Agate nodded, proudly.

Lyca choked at the insane-sounding answer. “Look. A Necromancer is the darkest wizard of death! You mustn't listen to the Necronomicon! You mustn't use its evil magic!”

“Why not?” Agate blinked.

“It will drive you insane as it has driven all of its prior users insane! All the humans who read or tried to use it went mad.” Lyca said. “Please give me the book!”

“Nah.” Agate tapped the Necronomicon. “We pals now. Also, I can’t read and I’m not a human.”

Lyca’s eye started to twitch. “You can’t read… but how...”

“It’s a talking book, dummy.”

Lyca raised her crossbow. The Tag was twisting and amplifying her emotions. “I’m trying to protect you, moron! Surrender the book! Your spoon’s out of magic.”

Agate pointed her hand at Lyca, making a shape of the key with her fingers.

“I told you, we pals now. The book has been guiding me in the ways of de-pantsing people and more. There’s far too much you do not know, Librarian. For all your wisdom, you’re blind to the truth. I tire of arguing with you in circles.”

“I swear to Celestar, I will shoot you!” Lyca shouted, her hand twitching on the crossbow trigger, advancing onto Agate. “Give me the accursed...”

Agate sighed and as the crossbow drew close to her, she reached out with her poised fingers.

“Boop.”

She poked the tip of the arrow, turning her hand counter-clockwise. The crossbow arrow fell into its constituent parts as Lyca’s mouth gaped. She stared stupidly at the disarmed crossbow.

“Boop.”

Agate poked Lyca’s dress. It fell apart into segments of shredded cloth.

Lyca dropped the useless crossbow and tried to back away in terror as Agate advanced on her, smiling.

“Boop.”

Agate’s fingers stabbed at the Library tag on Lyca’s chest.

Lyca screamed as her tag shattered into golden dust. All demands for immediate book acquisition disappeared from her head.

Agate loomed menacingly over Lyca. It was real menace this time, no affectation. “You are Librarian no longer.” she declared. The eye of the Necronomicon glowed ominously from the belts on her chest, staring down on Lyca. “Cooperate or be undone. I have an Empire to destroy. DO NOT get in my way!”

“I’ll cooperate.” Lyca whispered back, struck with fright.

Agate turned and pranced merrily into the tunnel and down towards the moat as a naked, bewildered Lyca looked on. Necromancy was not what she expected it to be. It was far more terrifying. It could kill, undo anything! Even inorganic things, even Dragon-magic itself.

She held onto her StarHammer necklace and prayed to the Master Builder for Agate’s lost soul to see the light.

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About the author

Vitaly S Alexius

  • Canada
  • Archbishop of Captania and sovereign territories
  • https://www.rom.ac

Bio: I was born in the year 1984, in the 4th most polluted city of Soviet Union - Novokuznetsk of Siberian Russia.
On April 11/1997 fate has given me an unexpected twist and by means of aerial transportation I was thrown 5555 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Ontario, Canada, wherein I currently preside in an 1890 Presbyterian church and partake in writing and drawing things.

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